David Copperfield – Day 121 of 331

Steerforth laughed heartily, and I laughed too. Miss Mowcher continuing all the time to shake her head (which was very much on one side), and to look into the air with one eye, and to wink with the other.

“Well, well!” she said, smiting her small knees, and rising, “this is not business. Come, Steerforth, let’s explore the polar regions, and have it over.”

She then selected two or three of the little instruments, and a little bottle, and asked (to my surprise) if the table would bear. On Steerforth’s replying in the affirmative, she pushed a chair against it, and begging the assistance of my hand, mounted up, pretty nimbly, to the top, as if it were a stage.

“If either of you saw my ankles,” she said, when she was safely elevated, “say so, and I’ll go home and destroy myself!”

“I did not,” said Steerforth.

“I did not,” said I.

“Well then,” cried Miss Mowcher, “I’ll consent to live. Now, ducky, ducky, ducky, come to Mrs. Bond and be killed.”

This was an invocation to Steerforth to place himself under her hands; who, accordingly, sat himself down, with his back to the table, and his laughing face towards me, and submitted his head to her inspection, evidently for no other purpose than our entertainment. To see Miss Mowcher standing over him, looking at his rich profusion of brown hair through a large round magnifying glass, which she took out of her pocket, was a most amazing spectacle.

“You’re a pretty fellow!” said Miss Mowcher, after a brief inspection. “You’d be as bald as a friar on the top of your head in twelve months, but for me. Just half a minute, my young friend, and we’ll give you a polishing that shall keep your curls on for the next ten years!”

With this, she tilted some of the contents of the little bottle on to one of the little bits of flannel, and, again imparting some of the virtues of that preparation to one of the little brushes, began rubbing and scraping away with both on the crown of Steerforth’s head in the busiest manner I ever witnessed, talking all the time.

“There’s Charley Pyegrave, the duke’s son,” she said. “You know Charley?” peeping round into his face.

“A little,” said Steerforth.

“What a man he is! There’s a whisker! As to Charley’s legs, if they were only a pair (which they ain’t), they’d defy competition. Would you believe he tried to do without me—in the Life-Guards, too?”

“Mad!” said Steerforth.

“It looks like it. However, mad or sane, he tried,” returned Miss Mowcher. “What does he do, but, lo and behold you, he goes into a perfumer’s shop, and wants to buy a bottle of the Madagascar Liquid.”

“Charley does?” said Steerforth.

“Charley does. But they haven’t got any of the Madagascar Liquid.”

“What is it? Something to drink?” asked Steerforth.

“To drink?” returned Miss Mowcher, stopping to slap his cheek. “To doctor his own moustachios with, you know. There was a woman in the shop—elderly female—quite a Griffin—who had never even heard of it by name. ‘Begging pardon, sir,’ said the Griffin to Charley, ‘it’s not—not—not rouge, is it?’ ‘Rouge,’ said Charley to the Griffin. ‘What the unmentionable to ears polite, do you think I want with rouge?’ ‘No offence, sir,’ said the Griffin; ‘we have it asked for by so many names, I thought it might be.’ Now that, my child,” continued Miss Mowcher, rubbing all the time as busily as ever, “is another instance of the refreshing humbug I was speaking of. I do something in that way myself—perhaps a good deal—perhaps a little—sharp’s the word, my dear boy—never mind!”

“In what way do you mean? In the rouge way?” said Steerforth.

“Put this and that together, my tender pupil,” returned the wary Mowcher, touching her nose, “work it by the rule of Secrets in all trades, and the product will give you the desired result. I say I do a little in that way myself. One Dowager, she calls it lip-salve. Another, she calls it gloves. Another, she calls it tucker-edging. Another, she calls it a fan. I call it whatever they call it. I supply it for ’em, but we keep up the trick so, to one another, and make believe with such a face, that they’d as soon think of laying it on, before a whole drawing-room, as before me. And when I wait upon ’em, they’ll say to me sometimes—with it on — thick, and no mistake—‘How am I looking, Mowcher? Am I pale?’ Ha! ha! ha! ha! Isn’t that refreshing, my young friend!”

I never did in my days behold anything like Mowcher as she stood upon the dining table, intensely enjoying this refreshment, rubbing busily at Steerforth’s head, and winking at me over it.

“Ah!” she said. “Such things are not much in demand hereabouts. That sets me off again! I haven’t seen a pretty woman since I’ve been here, jemmy.”

“No?” said Steerforth.

“Not the ghost of one,” replied Miss Mowcher.

“We could show her the substance of one, I think?” said Steerforth, addressing his eyes to mine. “Eh, Daisy?”

“Yes, indeed,” said I.

“Aha?” cried the little creature, glancing sharply at my face, and then peeping round at Steerforth’s. “Umph?”

The first exclamation sounded like a question put to both of us, and the second like a question put to Steerforth only. She seemed to have found no answer to either, but continued to rub, with her head on one side and her eye turned up, as if she were looking for an answer in the air and were confident of its appearing presently.

“A sister of yours, Mr. Copperfield?” she cried, after a pause, and still keeping the same look-out. “Aye, aye?”

“No,” said Steerforth, before I could reply. “Nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Mr. Copperfield used—or I am much mistaken—to have a great admiration for her.”

“Why, hasn’t he now?” returned Miss Mowcher. “Is he fickle? Oh, for shame! Did he sip every flower, and change every hour, until Polly his passion requited?—Is her name Polly?”

The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me with this question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted me for a moment.

“No, Miss Mowcher,” I replied. “Her name is Emily.”

“Aha?” she cried exactly as before. “Umph? What a rattle I am! Mr. Copperfield, ain’t I volatile?”

Her tone and look implied something that was not agreeable to me in connexion with the subject. So I said, in a graver manner than any of us had yet assumed: “She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be married to a most worthy and deserving man in her own station of life. I esteem her for her good sense, as much as I admire her for her good looks.”

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